The Sony DCR-TRV320 is a one of the least expensive digital camcorders on the market – you can buy it for under $700. It uses Digital 8™ format – it records digital video on regular 8mm or Hi-8 tapes instead of MiniDV decreasing your tape costs.
Although 8mm tapes are larger than MiniDV, they are less expensive. MiniDV tape was designed for use with digital camcorders. MiniDV is also incompatible with “regular” 8mm or Hi-8 camcorders and VCRs.
With Digital 8 camcorders, you can use your regular 8mm or Hi-8 tapes. The recording is in digital format and although you cannot play them on your old 8mm/Hi8 camcorder or VCR (if you have one), the Digital 8™ camcorders are backward compatible with 8mm or Hi-8 devices – you can play your existing 8mm or Hi-8 recordings. TRV320 plays 8mm tapes recorded on your existing camcorder.
8mm tapes are bigger in size and hold less information than MiniDV (recording times on Digital 8 are less than on MiniDV in LP mode). The only reason you would use Digital 8 is the price – MiniDV tapes are very expensive, so with Digital 8 you can save on tape.
Note: Sony recommends to use Hi8 tapes fro D8, but 8mm tapes will do fine. Sony recommends to play 8mm tapes on the same camcorder that was used to record them. D8 camcorders can record at SP speed (120-minute Hi8 tape holds 60 minutes of digital video) or LP speed (120-minute Hi8 tape holds 90 minutes).
But Sony recommends to play the LP-recorded tapes on the same camcorder. And you cannot record in LP on a 8mm tape – even if you set it to LP mode, the recording will be in SP. To be able to record in LP, you have to buy Hi8 tapes.
The TRV-320 looks stylish - a usual picture with Sony's products. Although the LCD is somewhat small, it is much better than a viewfinder. Several buttons are located under the LCD, so to access them you have to open it. The manual focus ring looks cool.
You achieve up to 500 lines of horizontal resolution and digital sound, so you don’t really degrade the quality of your recordings by using Digital 8 instead of MiniDV. The fact that Digital 8 is a true digital format makes both the picture and sound crisp and noise-free, the picture quality is excellent. Additionally, since the recording is digital, the quality will not decrease over time.
The only problem I noticed is the fact that in the low-light conditions the noise appears in the dark areas (you can manually adjust shutter speed and/or exposure to compensate for this).
The camcorder has impressive 25x optical zoom and 450x digital zoom. Additionally, there is a Sony's SteadyShot® image stabilizer, which uses motion sensors to remove unwanted picture shake. The stabilizer works very well and optical zoom is usually sufficient. You can set three levels of zoom using the menu: optical zoom only (up to 25x), digital zoom 1 (up to 25x optical, then digital up to 50x) and digital zoom 2 (up to 25x optical, then digital up to 450x).
The camcorder has both a B&W viewfinder and a 2.5" LCD (good visibility in sunlight, brightness is controlled by the rocker switch on the edge of the LCD, color is controlled through the menu).
The camcorder uses Digital Audio Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) - similar to CD recording technology, with 12-Bit or 16-Bit modes, for a dynamic range of more than 96dB. In 12-bit mode you can have two soundtracks, 16-bit mode provides better sound quality at high frequencies.
TRV320 features a 1/4” 460,000-pixel CCD (the high resolution increases the picture quality), 25x optical zoom and 450x digital zoom, which is much more than enough for any situation. The SteadyShot® electronic image stabilizer removes unwanted picture shaking, which otherwise would be very annoying. The stabilizer is especially useful when shooting from the moving car or using high zoom levels.
The camcorder has both a B&W viewfinder and a 2.5" LCD with 61,000-pixel resolution. You can shoot still pictures (Digital Photo Mode). The camcorder allows you store hundreds of still pictures on the tape, but in addition to that, it allows you to store your still pictures on a Sony’s Memory Stick.
Additional features include 8mm and Hi8 playback, five-mode A/V fader, 14 picture effects (Black & White, Sepia, Negative Art, Pastel, Slim, Stretch, Mosaic, etc.), 7 mode program AE, edit search and TBC (Time Base Correction), 16:9 mode and LP recording capability (on Hi8 tape).
You also get manual focus and manual exposure in addition to automatic ones. Manual focus is controlled by the ring, which also looks cool. You can switch between manual and automatic focus using a switch on the left side of the camcorder (by LCD), it also has a position for “infinity” focus.
The digital and picture effects can be used independently (some of them can be combined). The cool A/V fader modes I like include “dot” and “bounce”. You can also manually adjust (if you want, otherwise it’s automatic) shutter speed and exposure.
The playback zoom (PB Zoom button under the LCD) allows you to zoom in during the playback (but it’s cumbersome to use).
You can also shoot in total darkness with Sony’s Super NightShot™, which enables you to shoot subjects up to 10 feet away. The system uses a built-in infrared light; the optional IR light can extend the range to up to 100 feet (the IR light can be attached to the "intelligent accessory shoe" - see below).
There is a built-in speaker (you can control the volume with a rocker switch) and intelligent accessory shoe, which accepts accessories ranging from lights, IR lights and photo printers to microphones that “zoom” with the camcorder.
The control L (LANC) Editing Interface provides standardized connection for synchronized operation of camcorder, VCR, and edit controller. The TRV320 has I.Link® Digital Interface (IEEE1394), which is a two-way input/output that carries digital audio, digital video and control signals to compatible digital VCRs, edit controllers and computers.
The camcorder records so-called “Data Code” on the tape in digital form separately from the picture. Data includes the date, time and recording parameters. This leads to the ability to search for recording by date (you have to use the supplied remote control). You can also see the information about the recording conditions as well as date/time by pressing the “Data Code” button under the LCD.
The TRV320 has an ADC (analog-digital converter) that converts an analog signal you pass through the analog input, so you can either record it on the D8 tape in digital format (for archiving purposes) or send it through the IEEE-1394 (i.Link) interface to your computer, i.Link-equipped VCR or another device.
The camcorder also has a Super Laser Link® Wireless Transmitter, which uses infrared light to make a wireless connection from your camcorder to your television. The transmitter is built-in, so you can buy a receiver and connect your camcorder wirelessly. The Super Laser Link system features a transmission range up to 26 feet.
You can buy a receiver (IFT-R20) and connect your camcorder wirelessly to the TV or other equipment. Some Sony TV models will even switch to the appropriate channel when signal from the IFT-R20 is received. The camcorder's menus allow you to choose the channel.
The camcorder has the following inputs: A/V in and out, S-Video in and out, control L interface, i.Link in/out, microphone in, headphone out.
The VCR mode allows you to see your material and transfer it to a VCR or other devices using i.Link, A/V out or S-Video. When you switch to it, the VCR buttons appear on the upper black panel, backlit by the amber light (they are invisible in other modes). In “camera” mode you can use “Edit Search” to look through the material to find the insertion point, or use “End Search” button, located under the LCD to find the end of your last recording.
The power source for the camcorder is a InfoLithium® battery, which has large capacity and no "memory effect", that “old” Ni-Cd batteries used to have. And you can always see the approximate remaining power: AccuPower™ meter shows you the remaining battery time in minutes on the camcorder's LCD or viewfinder – this estimate is usually very accurate.
In spite the information some “educators” in online stores can give you, the supplied F330 InfoLithium® Battery lasts more than 30 minutes (more like 50-70).
In addition to looking cool, the backlit LCD on the outer side of the 2.5” color LCD shows the remaining battery power in minutes while charging and tape counter when operating VCR.
The power cord can be connected to the camcorder while the battery is attached and the external power also charges the camcorder while it is in the “off” mode.
The TRV320 features Stamina® Power Management that cuts power consumption and extends battery life when camera is not in use.
The camcorder comes with a remote control that features some functions that are unavailable without it (slow motion playback, frame-by-frame, date search, photo search, photo scan). The remote also has a rocker switch to control the zoom (but it is one-speed and somewhat slow) and a Record/Stop button.
There are other features I didn’t mention – after all, the camcorder comes with a 120-page manual :-) .
Sony TRV-320 is a good value. With Digital 8 technology you can save on tapes and have backward compatibility with your existing recordings. All that without sacrificing image quality. However, if you don’t care about best bang for the buck and compatibility, camcorders with MiniDV format will be a better choice. Their tapes are smaller and have higher capacity.
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